The post-fight press conference of ROAD FC 32 in Changsha, in the capital of central China’s Hunan province, revealed a lot about Kim Soo-Chul.
The 25-year-old Korean bantamweight had just annihilated former UFC fighter Jumabieke Tuerxun in front of 7,000 screaming fans, but instead of talking to the media about his dominant performance, Kim spent much of the press conference shadow boxing, running through drills and going over various combinations.
Was he unhappy with his performance? Not necessarily. Is he obsessed with perfecting his craft of mixed martial arts? Most definitely.
“I won the fight, but it wasn’t perfect,” he told ROUGH.
“I was shadow boxing because I thought if I had done it this way, it would have been better.”
Such is the obsession of Kim – and the reason why he has emerged as one of the hottest success stories of Korean MMA. Rumour has it he taught his girlfriend how to hold training pads so he can practise on a moment’s notice.
Kim made his professional debut at just 18 years of age in a featherweight match-up against DEEP and Shooto veteran Yasuhiro Kanayama, winning by first round submission to take the Rising On featherweight title. But following his debut he made the drop to bantamweight and has not looked back.
Hailing from South Korea, he has made himself a force to be reckoned with across Asia. He is widely regarded for his aggression and has earned the name “One Minute” for the increasing number of fast finishes he gives fans.
Early in his career, he took high-profile wins over UFC veterans and top international fighters such as Taiyo Nakahara, Maike Linhares and Marcus Brimage. Kim also has the unique claim to being on the first cards for both ROAD Fighting Championship in 2010 and ONE Championship the following year, where he fought Leandro Issa, but lost to a unanimous decision.
A year later he was granted a rematch and brutally knocked out Issa to claim ONE Championship’s first bantamweight title. A loss to current champion Bibiano Fernandes in 2013 cost him the belt, but that loss to Fernandes has also been his last.
TO BE A PROFESSIONAL FIGHTER AT THIS LEVEL IS A HUGE FORCE IN MY LIFE. IT’S MY MOTIVATION.
Kim’s path towards a career as a mixed martial artist is not dissimilar to how many young athletes find their way into the sport today.
“I thought MMA looked really cool. At first, I watched it a lot, then I went right to a gym and I was overwhelmed by the atmosphere of it all,” he says.
“I used to think I might get into trading, but after I started MMA, I never thought about any other kind of job.”
Being able to dedicate his life to training and developing is not something that every fighter can achieve throughout their career and Kim doesn’t take it for granted.
“To be a professional fighter at this level is a huge force in my life. It’s my motivation. My challenge is to keep advancing my goals and gain more experience. I would like to be remembered as a unique fighter. A strong fighter.”
On 10 December that chance will come when the Korean juggernaut steps into the cage at ROAD FC 35 to face Japanese MMA veteran Shimizu Shunichi, who agreed to step up on 10 days notice to replace an injured Scott Jorgensen.
Jorgensen was announced as the match up for Kim on ROAD FC 35, but was forced to withdraw after injuring his ankle during training camp.
With a short training camp, Shunichi should take heed from Kim’s undoing of Jumabieke in Changsha, where his speed and aggression shut down the UFC veteran within seconds of the opening round.
It also begs the question of whether Kim can continue to be challenged in Asia where his options within the bantamweight division will grow thin as the years move on.
Those close to Kim say the desire to seek out a contract with the likes of UFC or even Bellator are not a top priority, with challenges and perhaps more importantly, his earning power in Asia, enough to keep him content. Also, the drive to reclaim a bantamweight title has not been the driving force in his MMA career. Instead, he takes a long-term view and has his sights set on training and developing.
“Of course I want to be a champion, but I’m not going to dwell on it. Being called a champion isn’t that important to me.
“I want people to say, ‘he’s a really strong fighter’ and consider me with other top fighters,” he says.
“I have a family to support. In order to do that, an athlete has to become recognised as a powerhouse. So I fight fiercely.”
Part of the Team Force training camp in Wonju in South Korea, Kim say he is optimistic about the growth of MMA in Asia and to be a part of its development is something special.
“MMA is growing significantly in Asia. We fighters are putting on better matches, making the possibilities endless. To be a part of the development of MMA in Asia is a big honour. I will always do my best to put on exciting matches.”
While MMA has copped its fair share of flak for being overly aggressive, Kim see this as a positive.
“To be called aggressive in martial arts is a good thing, I guess. It’s most important to neutralise my opponent’s specialty first. So that’s why it seems I’m more aggressive. But I try to keep my mind calm during it.”
But it’s not just brute force and aggression that has helped elevate his career, mental strength is now a significant part of the game plan.
“I use my imagination a lot. I visualise the stadium and my opponent so I can get a feel for them. I simulate the situation in my mind and move my body with it.”
Away from training and competing, life is relatively normal for the 25-year-old and says he may one day look to coaching.
“MMA is an integral part of my life. For now, I’m a professional fighter, but even after I retire I will still work in the field of MMA. I might be a coach, but right now, MMA is indispensable in my life.”
With a win over Shunichi on 10 December, Kim is sure to be granted a shot at ROAD FC’s bantamweight belt, something his loyal fans have been screaming out for.
Back to the business of being obsessed.